Celebrating Lesbian Visibility

In honor of today, Lesbian Day of Visibility, WoLF wishes to share this reflection on an intimate gathering about Lesbian Erasure written by our member, Kacie.

Despite the snowy weather and inconvenience of a weeknight, our rented back room of a restaurant filled up with lesbians young and old. The group was an interesting mix—several silver-haired women in their 50s and 60s, a handful in their late 20s/early 30s, and most around twenty who had never been in a lesbian space outside their own kitchens. After an hour of meeting and eating, we began an informal discussion facilitated by Dr. Julia Long of the Lesbian Rights Alliance.

To start us out, Julia encouraged us to frame the night not as “lesbian erasure,” but rather “lesbian visibility.” We know all too well the abysmal state of lesbian community, spaces, and most recently the right to even define our sexuality. It’s all most of us talk about. How could we not?

Our daily reality is a pale shadow and sick joke of a once vibrant culture. Most people don’t understand why dykes are so outraged and obsessed with identity politics. It’s simple. Self-ID and transgender ideology affects lesbians more than any group. We don’t just wake up everyday and decide this is a fun use of our time. We can’t escape it. It affects our community on a very personal level—stealing the youngest, most vulnerable lesbians by pressuring them to transition, and then forcing the remaining ones to accept males into our dating pools and spaces. The L gets it from both sides.

Despite this, we don’t just want to go around complaining. This event was to be about where we want to go and what we want to do as lesbians, and strategize ways to womanifest our goals.

One of the first comments of the night was the issue of how infighting drains our small community. To remedy this issue, we considered joining other groups of women who share common values. For example, in Women’s Liberation Front, members agree to a set of principles, know what they stand for, and don’t waste any time debating terms or issues. But what about less structured groups—would we want employ codes of conduct or conflict resolution? Do we really need to codify our living, breathing culture?

One thing is clear, though. We should be face to face as much as possible, especially when we disagree. That means listening radically, not just waiting for your turn to speak. We should prioritize every opportunity to get offline and get in touch.

Dr. Long spoke on how it’s crucial to keep up the integrity of any group. As women, we’re socialized to be accommodating and let everyone in. But our reasons and boundaries need to be fiercely respected and protected. “Don’t be in a hurry to compromise,” she said.

Julia also talked about her strong stance against using preferred pronouns, or in simpler terms, calling a male “she.” Under no circumstances should you play that game, because then you’ll never stop. Not to be polite, to appease, or to make a point. We cannot obscure this issue or gaslight ourselves and our sisters into submission.

This brought up one of the most interesting—and tense—moments of the night. A junior in college mentioned her efforts to build community by forming lesbian groups on campus. One of the groups she’s in is “queer,” so she interacts with many women who don’t identify as female. One “non-binary” woman in makeup and a dress asked if she would be welcome in the female space. Our group wondered to what extent would our sister uphold this fantasy that this woman was not a woman? An older lesbian argued strongly against indulging a “non-binary” identity whatsoever and to absolutely call her “she.” The college student said frankly, “Well, you’re not in my position. I am. You have no idea what it’s like.”

A gap of over forty years swung between them, two entirely different worlds. Us younger women can’t fathom what it was like to have pure, female-only discos, bars, and bookstores in every city, able to go to a new space each day of the week. One woman at the gathering remembered swing dancing with 40 lesbians and a 25-piece dyke big band. Every weekend you’d go help a different woman’s place and paint her living room or fix her roof.

Today we have nothing. But it’s worse than that. Many college campus groups are between a rock and a hard place: play the inclusion game or fail to meet the numbers required to start a lesbian club. Students may have never met more than one other lesbian. They have no idea what sisterhood is, especially in a climate that obscures and obliterates womanhood. On campuses where your peer group, scholarship, and future job is on the line, it’s not so easy to rock the boat. With firm gender identity guidelines in place, it’s nearly impossible.

Young women are our future, but few of us are even calling ourselves women. We owe our sisters their due patience. If we are too confrontational, we may lose contact. We all must protect our boundaries, but we can assess each unique situation to offer gentle guidance home.

The consensus was, we need both groups. One that treads-lightly and plays the pronoun game to find the lost lesbians. And one that is uncompromising in its values and free from gaslighting, where we can become true ride-or-die sisters.

To help in this endeavor, Julia stressed the importance of women’s land. It helps you shed the worst aspects of female socialization, a surreal glimpse of an alternate reality. There’s simply nothing like it. From the proud display of healthy female bodies and chilling power of singing circles, to the pure safety of walking by moonlight and knowing your stuff will be exactly where you left it on the ground. Shouting that you need something and having five neighbors offer help? It’s a total mental shift.  

Julia gestured to the candle on the table in front of us, saying how the experience of women’s land is like a little glowing light you can take home with you. She then gestured to her chest, saying, “This here is lesbian feminist space. I take it wherever. Even if it’s just me sitting here on the bench. I took it to the Heritage Foundation.”

She continued, saying whether on women’s land or not, it’s key to share happy, unpolitical times with women. We must build bonds that are harder to break with disagreement. Fostering truly unshakable community is more important than protest signs. In fact, it may be the most important order of business. A younger lesbian said, “We’re putting the cart before the horse. All this political stuff is coming before community. I know 3 lesbians in real life, but there’ll be 50 women I don’t know at radical feminist events.” We have to bond first before doing more.

The group talked about how old-school second wavers urge today’s generation to recreate community. But they didn’t pass on the torch. Lesbian feminists splintered off and got domestic lives. When we ask for advice, they say, just do it. Grab that hammer! Start that bookstore! But times have changed.

The whole “rebuild it the same way” is didactic and forced. We are playing a different game with less resources and more obstacles. And the thing is, you can never recreate something the same way. It would feel dead before it begins. So instead of rebuilding, let’s just build. Let’s create what we want where we are. Let’s learn from the past to forge a new path.

And what do we want? The general consensus was equal parts community groups and “get-shit-done” groups. Many women in the room voiced that nowadays they feel more anxiety by NOT doing actions that make us visible than the fear of backlash. So get ready world, here come the lesbians.

As the night wrapped up, we draped a six-foot long labrys flag on the table. With chunky markers, we wrote on the smooth purple fabric: Love women everyday. For the dykes. Long live lesbians. Once everyone had signed their messages, someone in our group offered the flag to Julia Long. After a beat, she accepted with heartfelt thanks. Perhaps it’ll be an artifact of our future. Because lesbians aren’t extinct—we’re all still here, rebuilding. Our torches burn brighter with every sister we bring into the fold. Who knows what we’ll create this time.